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I n t r o d u c t i o n Developing Urban Areas as if Gender Matters Afaf Ibrahim Meleis The world is becoming more urbanized, and urban populations are growing at an unprecedented pace. More than half of the world’s population , approximately 3.5 billion people, live in cities; by 2030 this number is expected to increase to almost 5 billion. People are moving to urban areas seeking new opportunities, new options, freedom in choices, and better resources. Women in particular believe that they can improve their status, position, and their children’s opportunities by seeking work and educational opportunities for themselves or their children in the cities. Many even venture beyond their own countries in search of a better quality of life. Increasing urbanization is not only a U.S. phenomenon; rather, it is a global phenomenon. Although most of this growth in numbers of urban dwellers and in migration to urban areas is occurring in higher income nations, similar migration patterns are occurring in developing nations as well, such as Africa, Asia, and Latin America (ISTED 2010; WHO 2010e). The United Nations has estimated that in the early twentieth century approximately sixteen cities in the world had populations of at least 1 million. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, approximately 400 cities were this size. Megacities, defined by the United Nations as metropolitan areas with a total population of more than 10 million people, are also increasing in number, and many of these will be located in the developing world. As urbanization increases, the number of urban poor will also continue to rise (United Nations 2008c). Many of these will be women moving from rural to urban areas and across countries with dreams of finding better lives, more educational and health resources, and fewer restrictions on new freedoms. Among these women are the Syrian, Filipina , and Thai maids, nannies, cooks, and housekeepers who work in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. They are the mail-order brides from Korea, Lithuania, Estonia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Germany, and the United States. They are the female nurses from all over the world 2 Afaf Ibrahim Meleis who live and work in Brunei, Kuwait, the United Kingdom, the United States, and other countries far from their homes. Most, if not all, of these women settle in urban areas that are not designed with their safety in mind; nor is access provided to resources that meet their unique and universal needs. While urbanization comes with new opportunities and many options, it is often hazardous to women and to their health. The process of urbanization contributes to a scarcity of resources, lack of infrastructure, and deprivations in social structure. In urban areas, women face new health risks caused by poor sanitation, lack of electricity, as well as more pollution, stress, crime, and traffic accidents (United Nations 2008c, 2010a). In congested cities, women also face an increased risk of communicable diseases and infections . Women are more compromised than men under these urban conditions due to gender inequities and to a lack of awareness among urban developers and policymakers of their specific needs and concerns. Urbanization creates new issues for health and health care for women, and although there has been attention to the relationship between urbanization and health, less is known about the intersection of these three subjects: urbanization, gender, and health. A focus on the role of gender in urban health is absent from dialogues about urbanization (Frye, Putman , and O’Campo 2008). Further, limited dialogue exists on the intersection between public spaces and women’s health-care needs. Urban environments, with their specific social and structural characteristics, have an undeniable impact on the health and well-being of urban populations , especially on women, who are more at risk because of the prevailing gender divide and limited access to resources and health services. This book is designed to provide a platform for a robust dialogue about the social and physical environments and space configurations in which women live, and the impact of the urban environment and its planning on the health of women. The goals of the chapters that follow are to stimulate urban planners and women’s health professionals to initiate dialogue about, and research into, the intersection between urbanization and women’s health. Broadly, the aim of this book—Women’s Health and the World’s Cities— is to examine urban planning to identify areas with the potential to better support women’s health. Far too...


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